Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Great Commission Tension a Pastor Faces

Pastors go through some very strange emotions during the course of a week.  Having been in pastoral ministry for 22 years, I’m still learning how to process the various ebbs in flows, not just in a church but in this pastor’s heart. 

By tension, what do I mean?  Do I mean that I am under stress?  No, I’m not trekking there. What I mean by tension is this:  two competing views on how something should be done that should be leveraged, not resolved.  I borrowed this from Andy Stanley’s talk on The Power of Tension, and I hope you will have time to watch it sometime. 

But I’m not Andy Stanley.

And he’s not the pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church—I am.  Therefore, I shall land here a bit and share with you the tension a pastor faces.

Ministering to the people inside the church while wanting to reach those outside the church.

“That’s a tension, you say?”  Uh, yeah!   Huge tension (I’d use all caps there, but that’s rude).  How is this a tension?

I was called by God through ARBC to pastor this church.  Every day, I thank God for this privilege.  We have a wonderful cross-section of ages at our church that few have in Denver. That’s a good thing, by the way.  I love being among them, loving them, preaching and teaching them the Word numerous times a week, and ministering with them in various aspects during the week.

So where’s the tension?

The tension is, we are surrounded by people who do not know Christ.  Many haven’t even considered Christ.  For a church of lifelong believers living and moving in church world for most of their lives, this may seem incomprehensible.   Many of the things we often take for granted: 

  • where books are in the Bible
  • what certain words mean
  • what certain programs accomplish
  • what our distinctives are as Baptists
  • the need for missions and the Great Commission

These things are so ingrained in our church world culture, that we do not realize that most folks outside the church (1) know what a Bible, (2) what a Baptist is, much less a Christian, and (3) what the Great Commission is.  In fact, like it or not, the word ‘Baptist’ carries both good and bad baggage (“Wasn’t Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church?”).

Thus the tension:  ministering meaningfully to those inside the church so they grow, while developing a culture in the church where we go and reach others for Christ.  With this, other mini-tensions break out:

  • How do we create atmospheres in the church that help us grow, but also provide an atmosphere where the unchurched and unbelievers may come and fell welcomed and at home?
  • How do we create a culture where our worship times not only connect with the Word of God but also connecting with the city where God has placed us?
  • How do we provide a wonderful connection time at our building, without the building being the only connection time?
  • How do we provide ways for teams to meet, without the meetings totally dominating the week that outward ministry cannot take place? 

These are things that pastors think about.   If we trying to resolve the tension, then we would choose either or:  all in with ministering to those inside, or all out in reaching the culture.  That’s not a good option.

If we leverage the tension, then we work to maintain a balance and let each area work and balance that tension to make sure we do not lean too far one way or the other. 

The pastors at ARBC love this church.  We realize that this church is Christ’s and we are connected with His Kingdom.  We search the Scriptures, teach the Scriptures, love our people, and connect with the place that God planted us.   As we connect with our city, we must evaluate what must change in our church. …

… which may provide a tension within a church member:  leveraging the culture we love in our church with reaching the unchurched in our culture. 

Something to think about—that’s what we pastors do.

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Show Discernment Over the Touring Heaven Books

(From my upcoming newsletter to my Arapahoe Road Baptist Church family for May 2014)

May brings about a very special month in the life of our church: Senior Adult Sunday (May 4th), Mother’s Day (11th), Student-Led Sunday/Graduate Recognition (18th), Memorial Day Sunday (25th). Plus, we start a study on Discovering the Biblical Jesus on Equipped Wednesdays.

Yet, the very issue that captures the minds of many are the issues of heaven and Christ’s return. The movie Heaven is For Real (based on the popular book) hit theatres recently; along with the ‘Blood Moon’ on the morning of the 15th is taking our minds from this world to the next. Christians have much to think about.

Heaven is For Real outlines an account of a four-year-old boy who, will having surgery, says that he had an experience when he not only saw the doctors working on his body, but also knew where and what his mom and dad were doing. He also had a time when he sat on Jesus’ lap, when Jesus “had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.” He met long-departed relatives and saw how really big God was.

We have no shortage of books on this matter: 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, Flight to Heaven by Capt. Dale Black, Appointments with Heaven by Reggie Anderson, and numerous other ‘touring heaven’ books. While we take comfort in many thinking about heaven, we must also comfort each other in thinking rightly about heaven.

In Scripture, consider:

  • Only four visions take place regarding heaven: with Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1), the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12), and the Apostle John (Revelation).
  • While the majority of these ‘touring heaven’ books occur during near death experiences, none of the biblical authors had this.
  • While each of these ‘touring heaven’ authors felt the need to write these ideas down, God compelled these authors to write—they were in no hurry. John was told to “write the things that are” (Rev. 1:8); Paul sat on his vision for 14 years.
  • Three of these writers saw the Lord and felt they were doomed (Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 1:17-18).
  • When Paul was caught up into the dwelling of God (“the third heaven”), he said he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4)—much different from the ‘touring heaven’ authors who felt free to share everything they saw.
  • Don Piper noted that in heaven, he heard many songs, some of which he knew and others he didn’t. “But later I realized that I didn’t hear such songs as ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ or ‘The Nail-Scarred Hand.’ None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus’ sacrifice and death. I heard no sad songs and instinctively knew that there are no sad songs in heaven. Why would there be?” Yet, those same angels in heaven were singing about just that in Revelation 5:9-10. God used the old rugged cross to bring about the nail-scarred hand for our salvation and entry to heaven! Without that, no heaven—neither for 90 minutes or all eternity.

I could go on. But what’s my point in writing all this? First of all, the Bible is our authority on all things, not books on the bestseller list. We must look to the sufficiency of Scripture first and judge all things according to what God’s Word (i.e., the Scriptures) say.

Secondly, given all the news and press this generates, this should show us that people are longing to understand what’s next coming. Solomon wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:12), and these movies, books, and TV shows demonstrate this. I submit that even unbelievers and skeptics won’t ignore it because (possibly) they don’t want this to be true, but sense this is not all there is.

Heaven is for real—I know this because God told me so. And it’s more glorious than any book can capture. Be discerning, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Trust the Word! Let Christ and the Bible be your guide!

I love and treasure you all,

Pastor Matt

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Five Ways to Change a Culture in Your Church

Over the past year, I have found my mind drifting toward how cultures develop in organizations–especially churches, but organizations in general.  This came to my mind on Saturday.  I participate in a Colorado Rapids Discussion Page on Facebook (the Rapids are our local MLS soccer franchise).  We had a great win in Toronto this past Saturday, so many of us took time to chime in and give our thoughts.  In my sharing, I did three things that violated some unexpressed, unwritten rule.

  • I posted a picture of Rapids player Drew Moor’s fall late in the game.  (Someone responded: “Oh, no!  Are we going to post pictures from the TV now?”  O-K.)
  • A few hours after the game, I posted a question about next Saturday’s game against San Jose. (“Can we just enjoy the win for a few hours before thinking about the next game?”  Sure, why not?)
  • Lastly, a thread arose about Edson Buddle’s 99th career MLS goal.  Buddle makes a lot of money for a Rapids player, causing some fans to question whether his paycheck matches his production.  So, I posted a just release article featuring Buddle’s comments from the Rapids website.  (“Um, Matt, most of us read the Rapids website.”  Figured that, but it was just released, didn’t think you all saw it,  and was pertinent to the conversation. )

Exasperation Station.

Lest you think I camp out on this site, this all took place in a span of about 15 minutes.  I finally said in exasperation, “I’ve gotta start writing down and keeping up with these unwritten rules.”  (Many agreed.)

I share this to show that each home, each organisation, and each church has a culture filled with unwritten rules.  Those on the outside coming in like what’s presented–until they get inside it and find so many rules that are a ‘given’ to that organization, they make a quick choice as to whether to leave or conform.

Most inside those organizations do not realize the extent to which this culture lives and moves and has its being.  It’s built–not intentionally and not quickly, but slowly and methodically over time.  With a lack of intentionality and focus, a culture/mission drift takes place.

But also taking place is a number of unwritten rules lurking in the corners of the mind and heart–and likely somewhere in a classroom or parlor or food pantry.  When violated, unwritten rules become spoken principles.  Though unwritten, they are written on the writing tablets of our hearts–chiseled in, impossible to erase.

Every pastor sees this in his church.  Every church sees it in their pastors.  All of us have our ‘givens,’ but those ‘givens are not always understood or shared.

So…

What do we do?  What are some ways to begin change in the culture of the church, moving it from a Great Complacency to a Great Commission Missions Hub?

  1. Prayer.  Only God can change hearts.  I never could change one–neither can you.  Praying in love for your church not only works to change the church, but works to change you.  Some prayers are prayed only with the object of someone else’s change taking place, but all the while not seeing change needed in your own heart.
  2. Proclamation—persistent, consistent proclamation—from the Scriptures.   The mistake most young preachers make (and this young preacher made elsewhere) is coming in with their own unwritten rules or assumed understandings from Scripture that they assume their church holds.  So they want to jump from A to F without first hitting B, then C… .  F could be biblical and necessary, but we must teach and lead so they see it from Scripture and not simply as another ‘thing’ the pastor wants to do.  Mission, vision, and passion for the Great Commission must permeate all we do, say, and even think!
  3. Patience—lots of pastoral patience.  Change won’t happen in 15 minutes.  Not even your sermon happens in 15 minutes.  When Paul told young Timothy to teach with “all patience,” this means that we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of making every minute, hour, day, week, month, and year must systematically and methodically move toward a biblical and missional purpose and vision.
  4. Pastoral modeling of said culture.  If I preach and teach toward a certain culture, but I fail to model it in my own life?  Hypocrite, thy name is Pastor.  I must drive and thrive in a Great Commission Culture in my own heart.  My heart has to be my primary missions hub.  When hearts are changed, then cultures change.  But, pastor, it must start with you!
  5. Loving others, both inside and outside the church, in Jesus.   I meet people who are very hard on those in the church, all the while being evangelistic outside the church.  I also meet people who feel very at home with their church family, but very judgmental and condescending to those outside the church or Christ.  Romans 12:9-21 gives us a principle to love one another, both inside and outside the church.  When hearts are changed by Christ, he pours in His love in us to care for others and share the truth of Christ with others.

I was told by another pastor that it often takes 3-5 years to overcome the direction set by your predecessor.  This is less about the predecessor and more about pastors staying longer in their churches than the average 4.5 years.  I’ve been at my church for just under 2 1/2  years.  My prayer is to have a zero behind that 2, making it 20 years.  By that time, I’ll be 60.  Time will tell if God will keep me here that long, but that’s my aim.

Even so, prayer, preaching, patience, pastoral modeling, and providing love to those inside and outside the church.  That’s a start!

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How My Pastor Friend’s Death Changed Me

2014-03-20 08.05.55 Almost two months ago, my friend Tommy Rucker took his own life.  To say this affected me would be an understatement.  In preaching his funeral, God permitted me to sort through a number of theological issues surrounding his death—as well as talk to the family and friends of Tommy that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. 

But funerals end.  Lives have to go on.  A wife has to pick up the pieces.  Children and grandchildren have to proceed without their dad and grandfather in the picture anymore.  Awful! 

I cannot speak on the subject of all of Tommy’s friends, but I can speak about one of them—me.  God has used this to change me in a number of ways.

  1. I must be honest about what’s happening in my own heart.  Tommy clearly had a dark season in his life up to the end.  Yet, his wife did not know the extent of this.  Neither did his kids.  Nor his church.  Nor did his friends.  And I wonder if Tommy really understood this!  We all must understand our hearts before God and others.  This stands as a non-negotiable.
  2. I must have someone to share what’s happening in my heart.  I remember saying during the funeral sermon, “I wish I could have had another chance to talk to Tommy—to see what was happening.”  You see, Tommy and I carpooled to seminary for over a year during our MDiv work.  We shared things with each other that we haven’t shared with anyone else other than our spouses.  I wish I could have had one more car ride with him.  Who knows?  But now, I know I must have a transparent life with someone with whom I can be accountable—my spouse or even another friend as well. 
  3. I am more diligent in keeping up with my friends now.  Phone calls.  E-mails.  Facebook.  Smoke signal.  Carrier pigeon.  I see my pastor friends online, I pop in and say hello and ask them how I’m doing.  Who knows?  Some may say, “Oh, him again?”  Yup!  Me again.  I talked online to Tommy once per week.  We didn’t talk about much, but it was that connection.  Could I have done more?  Could I have said more?  Sure, he was in Iowa and I in Kentucky—but still… .  Even so, I need to do what I can to make sure all of us minister and live faithfully, and finish well in Christ.
  4. I’m preaching with more passion.  At least, that’s what folks tell me.  I didn’t connect until just now that maybe Tommy’s death is why.  What is happening in the hearts of the pastors with whom I serve?  What is happening with the staff with whom I’m supervise?  What’s happening with the congregation for whom I will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17)?  What’s happening in our community in which God has placed our church?  So, I’m preaching with much more urgency.  If God can use this clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7) for His purposes, then I pray He will put in me desire to compel others to chase after Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). 

I’ve been sitting on this for a number of weeks.  It’s so hard to think about, much less write about.  Plus, I do not want to unearth feelings among the family that may be starting to heal.  But if there are any family members reading (Kay, Melissa, Jesi, Derek, Steve, Jeff, Betty, wives, husbands, and children), please know that God is and will use all things for good, even though what happened was not good. 

You know that Tommy was my brother!  We kept talking about seeing each other again sometime.  And I will see him again!  That last season did not represent the totality of Tommy’s passion for relying on His grace.  You all are in my prayers.  Thank you for letting me be part of your lives.  May God use us to be a part of the lives of those whom we care about. 

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Three Weeks Until Our Mile High Pastor’s Conference 2014: The Pastor’s Family

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Pastoral ministry is more challenging than ever with unique, complicated burdens and expectations some have not experienced in previous generations. Because of this, the number of pastors who start with a great zeal for the work, quickly crash and burn and are left with a battered faith, marriage and family. 

On Saturday, April 26, we will have our 2nd Annual Mile High Pastors Conference on the topic of The Pastor’s Family (click to register). We are thankful to have Brian Croft and Cara Croft join us to speak to pastors and their wives, helping us to identify the unique challenges for families in ministry, diagnose some of the potential challenges, propose biblical solutions, and then guide those of us in ministry to embrace these challenges while shepherding our families through them. Included in the conference will be main sessions with Brian, plus breakout sessions for pastors and another for pastor’s wives. 

Brian is the head of Practical Shepherding which aims to help pastors in the day-to-day aspects of ministry. He also pastors Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY–where he has pastored for 10 years. 

He and Cara have co-written a book just published entitled “The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry” (hardcover | Kindle).   

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The Great Commission or the Great Complacency? The True Standard of Whether a Church is Working

complacency

If Jesus matters, then His Word matters. And if His Word matters, then people who are to hear this Word matter. And if people matter, then the ministries matter—the what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. Our ministries should reflect and reverberate from Christ and His Word. Even in Acts 2, when the church just started, they saw the need to keep priorities: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This reverberation brought awe to every soul, brought a unity to the church, brought a commonality to what was needed, and they possessed a glad and generous heart.

Ministries are about giving—time, talents, money, and the Word—to people who need them.

You have seen around that our vision is to help all people take the next step in their journey with Christ. We want to have a laser focus of folks of helping people move forward. This echoes what Jesus said in that we are to make disciples of all nations—that we are to be witnesses.

Those steps are come to Christ, connect with His church, contribute to His Kingdom. These steps are not made up by your pastor or leaders here, but are decidedly biblical. And God, through this process, is showing us that we need forward momentum to get His work done.  It’s good for us to set goals, keeping the Great Commission as our true north in bring Christ to those who need him.  Why?

  • Scripture gives examples of goal-setting.
  • Develops proper steps for momentum and prevents stagnancy.
  • Provides a way to define and evaluate progress and success.

Many of you are hearing and reading a lot about our systems analysis. We could spend a boat-load of time discuss what exactly that means. In essence, it’s a process of making our ministries work and function better. By what standard?

This actually came up in a meeting we had, where one person voiced (not of his own opinion, but voicing what others might say), “Well, everything is working. The doors are open, people are here, bills are paid, people are getting along—everything is working. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here.” I submit to you that our standard of work is looking at whether we are fulfilling the Great Commission. ARBC must continue becoming a missions hub that makes Acts 1:8 a reality.

So let’s return to our premise: Jesus matters, right? The Word of God matters, right? Therefore people matter? Absolutely! Then our ministries must matter. Why do we do what we do? It’s not that our doors are open, but why are our doors open? 

We’ve heard it said that it’s not about budgets, bodies, and buildings—but I believe that’s too general.  Each of these areas, when fueled by the Great Commission, can be a great thing.

  • Budgets: The goal is not only to meet budget, but to free resources to fulfill the Great Commission.
  • Bodies: The goal is not simply people coming in the door, but people coming to Christ and connecting with the church.
  • Buildings/Property: The goal is not just an attractive building for the saved to sit, but a missions hub for the saved to seek out the lost and strengthen the saved.

The Great Commission is the grid through which our church must function. 

Are we willing to look at all we do to see if it’s the Great Commission at work, or the Great Complacency?

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